The Supreme Court on Wednesday extended the deadline for an accountability court to conclude trial in three corruption references against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his family until June 9.
"We are certain the trial will conclude by June 9," the court ruled after hearing arguments of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) representative and the defence counsel.
The accountability court of Islamabad had sought another extension to conclude the trial as the deadline given to it by the apex court will expire on May 12.
At the outset of the hearing for the extension application today, Justice Ijazul Ahsan asked Special Prosecutor Akbar Tarrar why NAB had not been able to conclude the trial until now even though the court had given it enough time.
The prosecutor responded that the third reference, concerning Avenfield properties, has been concluded and that "every case is being heard individually". Justice Ahsan observed that the Bureau would require additional time to conclude the first and second references.
Justice Azmat Saeed wondered why NAB was delaying recording the statements of the accused under Section 342 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).
After some prodding by the bench, Tarrar said the statements under Section 342 could be recorded on May 10.
"Lawyer sahib, why is your attitude uncooperative with us?" Justice Saeed remarked, as he asked the NAB prosecutor for how many days the head of the joint investigation team (JIT), Wajid Zia, was cross-examined. The judge sighed with relief when Tarrar finally replied that Zia, a prosecution witness, was cross-examined for 16 days.
Defence counsel seeks 3 months
The lead counsel for Sharif, Khawaja Haris Ahmad, urged the court to extend the deadline by three months to complete the trial in a "transparent manner".
He said the next month would be Ramazan, when it would be difficult to take the proceedings further.
But Justice Ahsan dismissed the concern, saying: "Many of our elders fought wars during Ramazan."
"You can make us fight a war [instead]," Haris quipped in response. He contended that a month is too little a time for his client to defend himself.
But Justice Ahsan assured him that the court will not let the defendants' right to a fair trial be affected.
"We want that all legal requisites are fulfilled under Article 10-A (right to fair trial) of the Constitution," he remarked.
The court assured Sharif's counsel that it would not let any injustice take place during the trial, even as Haris requested that his reservations regarding what he considered a short deadline should be recorded in the court's written order.
During the hearing of the Avenfield properties reference on Tuesday, Judge Mohammad Bashir had said that he sent a formal request to the apex court for extending the deadline, as proceedings in the Avenfield properties, Al-Azizia and Flagship references were yet to conclude.
The judge had requested the SC earlier in March for an extension in the time frame to conclude the trial in the references filed by NAB in accordance with the directive of the SC given last year.
Judge Bashir was not sure about the duration of further extension, but he remarked during the hearing that the remaining proceedings in the references would be planned in accordance with the time frame.
The apex court in its judgement in the Panama Papers case on July 28, 2017 had disqualified the former prime minister and directed NAB to file three references against him, his daughter Maryam, son-in-law retired Captain Mohammad Safdar and sons Hussain and Hassan.
The accountability court was initially given six months to conclude the references, while an extension of two months was given in March.